85. At the Inn

Once they have stabled the horses, they step inside the inn’s common room.

A huge fireplace fills the air with its heat. A stink of goat lingers here, as everywhere in Talvain, and mingles with the odor of several huge brown dogs sleeping near the fire, snow thawing in their shaggy fur. But there are more agreeable aromas as well. Soon the four travelers are seated around a rough table to enjoy an unrefined but satisfying dinner of goat milk and cheese, heavy gray bread, as well as boiled turnips and eggs, the latter striking Stellia as oddly large. Garroth explains that they are, in fact, goose eggs, the large birds being better equipped than chickens for the climate.

Of the many tables and chairs in the room, few are occupied. When Sedwin inquires, the innkeeper, a flaxen-haired giant with a tremendous belly, mutters something about unseasonable snowfalls, and that business has been slow because travelers have been cautious about planning journeys across the pass. Garroth jokes that the best thing that could happen to his inn would probably be a crowd of rich merchants snowed in for a few weeks with nowhere to go. Hearing this, the innkeeper just scowls and shuffles off with a grunt, apparently having taken offense with the comment for some reason.

After dinner, they briefly survey the innkeeper’s shop, run out of a storeroom behind the counter, where many needful things are in supply. Garroth grumbles about the prices, prompting Sedwin to ask the innkeeper to show them to their room.

The blond giant leads them up a flight of stairs and out onto a wooden walkway above the inner courtyard. Stellia is relieved to see that he is not taking them to the part of the inn that overlooks the mountainside. Across the courtyard, a door creaks open. A man steps out onto the walkway, stretches, and belches. Stellia barely has time to look away before she realizes that he is about to urinate over the wooden railing. The men act as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. Could this be the only way the inn’s lodgers are expected to relieve themselves?

To Stellia’s relief, there is a privy not far from their room. The room itself is sufficiently large to accommodate four simple but sizable beds. Stellia claims the one farthest from the room’s single window—even though it overlooks nothing more precipitous than an alley—and lets herself sink onto the mattress. It is surprisingly soft. Nevynne, meanwhile, pours water from a copper pitcher into a bowl and washes her face. It takes some time until she has cleaned her skin of the dirt and grime that were her disguise. When she is done, she looks remarkably pale in the light of the candles they have lit—and, though her features and short hair still give her a boyish cast, quite a bit prettier, too.

“No need to keep up the dirty vagabond,” she says with a shrug. “I may still have to act the boy, but a clean one at least.”

“That should include your clothes.” Sedwin drops his satchel at the foot of the bed by the window. “Garroth and I will head into the town, to find some open shops and buy supplies, and something suitable for you to wear.”

“Make it dark green, all of it,” Nevynne demands. “If that’s not to be had, look for brown.”

Sedwin raises an eyebrow. “As My Lady commands.”

“Woodland colors, to offer concealment.”

Nevynne fusses with her face as she talks, using the copper pitcher as a mirror. The sarcasm in Sedwin’s response is obviously lost on her, or else she has chosen to ignore it. At any rate she seems to have no objections to being addressed as My Lady. Stellia feels a brief pang of jealousy, but she dismisses the feeling. At least she isn’t the only girl in a group of men who might think nothing of passing water into courtyards over wooden railings.

“You should get some sleep,” Garroth says as he follows Sedwin out the door. “We’ll be off early for an arduous ride. And no matter what happens, stay in this room.”

Nevynne continues her preening for a while after the men have left. Stellia watches her from the soft bed, half amused and half troubled by her friend’s sudden concern for her appearance.

Before long, her eyelids grow heavy, and she dozes off.

NEXT: An Attack in the Night

 

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